Monday, April 26, 2010

My Old Friend

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.

Chinese proverb
For me, one of the most poignant moments in all of grand opera is in the last act of Puccini's "La Boheme." Four men live together in a cold attic apartment in Paris. One of them, Colline, decides to go out and sell his overcoat to buy medicine for his roommate's very ill girl friend in the hope of keeping her alive. He sings a short but sad farewell to his coat, the friend who has kept him warm and whose pockets always carried the poetry and philosophy that he loves. "Addio. Addio."

It brings a lump to my throat every time I hear it.

A few times in my life, for various reasons I have had to abandon my library. I love books and I hope that wherever mine have ended up they are loved as much I loveed them. But there is one book I have never parted with. It sits at my elbow when I am at my desk. If I go anywhere for more than a day it goes with me in my back pack or suitcase. It is one of my dearest friends.

I bought it brand new from a bookstore in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1957. It's almost as old as I am. I paid $6.50 for it. You can barely read the price, written in pencil on the inside. I wrote my name underneath the price in red ink which is still quite visible.

It's a small volume, very small considering what it contains. It's 7 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches and 1 inch thick. In all the bookstores I've been in over the years, I've never seen another copy of it. It was printed by Oxford University Press in 1947.

It is in very threadbare condition due to age and use. I've taped the inside of the hard cover to the pages, but the tape on the outside spine is coming loose again. The pages are very thin India paper and fortunately I haven't torn any of them.

What is it? It's my complete Shakespeare. And it is complete; all the plays and all the poems, including all the sonnets in one small volume. Shakespeare is a divine gift to the human race, and no matter what English professors and stage directors do to it, it remains a rare treasure, recognized the world over.

This book has been a continuous inspiration to me for 53 years. I need a magnifying glass to read it now, but, so what? Falstaff, Lear and Juliet still come alive whenever the book is opened. I would never part with it. If, heaven forbid, I had to move suddenly this book would be one of the first things I would grab.

I love it. It's my old friend. It's the garden in my pocket.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


Vagabond's Law: No matter how hard you work or how much you get done, you will always have more left over work to do tomorrow than you had today.

Fashioning The Infinite

Somewhere in the heart of experience there is an order and a coherence which we might surprise if we were attentive enough, loving enough or patient enough.

Lawrence Durrell
A few days ago in this journal I posted an entry entitled Behind The Wall in which I said that I know there is a meaning behind the words I write and that I keep writing to discover it. I know I didn't make myself clear. Comments came back to me saying that words mean one thing to one person and another to another person. That's true, of course, but that is not what I was hoping to put forth.

An artist draws inspiration from the universal bank of ideas, which is eternal and infinite in its varieties, as numerous as the stars and as vast as the distances between them. What the artist makes of those ideas depends partly on his talent and skill, partly on dedication and hard work and partly on the need to seek and find, to expose or not, the unknown reality of the existence of those ideas, the unheard sounds and unseen colors.

When searching through the universal mind of ideas and creations trying to find the reality of all realities, we artists are poor tailors, cutting out patterns and trying to fashion together something that fits. It never does and that's why we keep trying.

I know that what I write has a greater meaning and a greater purpose that isn't mine. Musicians know that also. There is no end to what can be discovered in music. In a certain way music is what all art is trying to achieve.

But as science is trying to discover the universal law of physics which will explain everything, and medicine is trying for the universal panacea, the door remains not closed and locked but undiscovered. Once the opening is found, and the genius can step out into the unknown, unheard and unseen, art my disappear or take a new form, science may also, but we will know that all of our efforts to find the truth and understand it, from the simple drawing of a flower to a monumental Russian novel were never done in vain.

Durrell is correct. The first important step is to pay attention, to carefully read the words, really listen to the music and really look at the painting, realizing that you are looking "through a glass darkly."

Next comes the love. "The mightiest space in fortune nature brings to join like likes and kiss like native things" says Shakespeare. The courage of honest desire to find the light and share it no matter what it may be is requisite to understand what is written. That honest, humble affection can't help bring a greater coherence into one's experience.

It is the nature of truth to reveal itself, especially to the waiting, expectant mind. The hidden secret truth of the universe is harder to find because it is so complex and so undefinable and yet so simple. The paintings, poems, songs and dances are merely the outward shapes and patterns of the gown. They are invitations for the immortal truth to visit us.

The patient, persistent search for the truth behind the truth will never end. It can't.